Dear CityLab: I love running errands with my dog, but I get nervous leaving her outside when I go into stores. What’s the solution?
First of all, if you’re asking this, you’re not alone: 44 percent of U.S. households have at least one dog, according to the American Pet Products Association—that’s up from 36.5 percent in 2012. If you live in a city, you’re probably also not alone in being bereft of a backyard. So failing access to an enclosed space in which your pooch can run around and get her recommended 30 minutes of daily activity, you’ll want to take to the streets.
In many places, though, you’re out of luck if you want to bring your dog into a coffee shop, grocery store, or anywhere that sells food. Local laws vary, and you should check your local health department codes for precise language. Still, in most cases, it’s a violation, with the exception of patrol and service animals and, in some states, canine companions in outdoor seating areas.
Consequently, many people resort to tethering their dog to a post while they dash indoors for five minutes to run an errand or grab a quick coffee.
“But since when is five minutes ever five minutes?” questions Cory Smith, the companion animal public policy director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Next time you go into a store, time yourself—you’ll be surprised,” she adds.
People tend to underestimate how long they spend inside a store, creating a potentially unsafe situation for their pet. Dog thefts increased 33 percent between 2012 and 2014, and that minute spent away from your dog “may haunt an animal guardian for the rest of his or her life,” Katie Arth, the media assistant manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, tells CityLab. “Tied up alone, animals can easily be stolen, attacked by other animals, or subjected to random acts of cruelty,” she adds. “If spooked by a loud noise, an animal might also slip his or her collar in a panic and get lost or hit by a car. Scared dogs can bite children or adults—even those with the best of intentions—who approach clumsily.”
There is a distinction, Smith points out, between long-term dog chaining and the one-off incidents outlined above. The former refers to situations in which dogs are left tethered and isolated for the majority of their life—something that is illegal in 19 states and over 140 U.S. cities and counties. Though short-term tethering isn’t necessarily illegal, Arth tells CityLab, it still shouldn’t be considered an option for urban pet owners, because of those safety concerns Arth described.
Realizing this, Brooklyn resident Chelsea Brownridge took matters into her own hands and invented the Dog Parker, pictured above—a pay-by-the-minute portable doghouse now stationed outside select stores around the borough. When a 30-minute lunch appointment one day precluded the possibility of Brownridge bringing her terrier mix, Winston, on her day’s errands, she was determined to come up with a safe, hygienic fix for on-the-go dog owners. Her lockable, temperature-controlled, regularly sanitized Dog Parkers are a solution, but even with 100 more houses in the works for release in the spring of this year, for the time being, they’re only available to Brooklyn residents.
Which leaves the rest of urban dog owners in need of a couple tips.
So, what should you do?
Rely on a buddy system: Smith recommends arranging to meet up with another person (even better, another dog owner) if you’re setting out for an errand-packed day with your pet. That way, someone can mind the dogs while you run into the store, and prevent any of the horror stories Arth outlined.
Prioritize safety over time: If there’s no one available to tag along for a day that involves a stop in a dog-unfriendly spot, your best bet is to turn around and bring the dog home, Arth tells CityLab. “The dog’s safety is well worth the trip,” she adds.
Build in regular walks: Admittedly, it’s not always possible to bring your dog with you everywhere you go, especially if you work a 9 to 5 office job. If that’s the case, it’s especially important to get your dog outside at throughout the day or hire a dog walker, Arth says. Confined dogs, she notes, can grow stressed and irate, which in turn makes them even more difficult to bring along on your daily path through the city. “We all need to remember to put down our phones, stop yanking on the leash, and give our dogs the time to enjoy being dogs,” she adds.